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Compassion Training Improves Adolescent Mental and Physical Health

Teens in the Georgia foster care system given 6 weeks of cognitively based compassion training made greater improvements in mental and physical health than teens given no such training.

Researchers at Emory University developed a program called Cognitively Based Compassion Training (CBCT), which is a secular training course derived from Tibetan Buddhist teachings on compassion.

The Experiment

Children and teens living in foster care have often experienced significant trauma and adverse life events. Early life trauma is associated with increased inflammation and mental illness, as is evidenced by the high percentage of adolescents in foster care currently using psychiatric medications.

Would adolescents within the Atlanta foster care system benefit from 6 weeks of compassion training?

To find out, Emory University researchers took a sample of 71 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 from the Atlanta foster care system and randomly assigned each teen to receive either 6 weeks of CBCT or 6 weeks on a wait list control group.

Prior to and after the 6 weeks of CBCT training or time on a wait list each subject was tested on measures of hope for the future and anxiety and each subject provided a saliva sample for the measurement of C-reactive protein, an indicator of bodily inflammation. Elevated bodily inflammation is associated with a number of serious diseases, such as depression, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and others.

The Results

  • Teens given CBCT had less anxiety and more hope for the future after the 6 week program.
  • 6 weeks of CBCT also reduced C-reactive protein levels


Lead study author Charles Raison, MD, wrote, "The beneficial effects of CBCT on anxiety and feelings of hopelessness suggest that this intervention may provide immediate benefit to foster children. We are even more encouraged by the finding that CBCT reduced levels of inflammation. Our hope is that CBCT may help contribute to the long-term health and well being of foster care children, not only during childhood, but also as they move into their adult years.”

The full study results can be found in Psychoneuroendocrinology.

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